Laverda: The Yeoman Racer


A gang of 75 Sports lining up for the 1953 Motogiro d’Itali, a race Laverda excelled at. (Courtesy Cor Dees)

Laverda has been defunct for over 30 years, so you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. Moto Laverda branched off its agricultural equipment parent company shortly after WWII with a single-cylinder 75cc motorcycle. But those who do remember Laverda do so for the brilliant bright orange world-class superbikes it put out in the 1970’s. Like the company’s massive mechanical harvesters, the bikes were renowned for their toughness, and original examples are still being ridden and even raced to this day.

When the grandson of the original founder of Laverda Macchine Agricole (established in 1873, and still in business today) decided to branch out and open the Moto Laverda division in 1949, the directive was to make a sturdy, reliable machine for the economically devastated post-war market.

Even with such humble ambitions it was still customary for Italian motorcycle manufacturers to test their bikes in competition, and from the very beginning Laverda pressed its bikes into long-distance endurance races to prove their mettle.

Laverda’s very first production bikes accounted for 5 of the top 10 finishers in the 1950 Milan-Tarano race, a grueling 1,200-kilometer open-road test with national pride at stake. The performance raised eyebrows at established competitors like Moto Guzzi and Ducati—even more so two years later when Laverda came back and took the top 14 spots all to itself. Sales followed suit, and over 9,000 Laverdas came out of the Breganze factory in 1954.

But it wasn’t a straight line form there to 70’s superbikes. The economy had recovered and motorcycle sales plummeted as small cars became more affordable. The company dabbled in mopeds and scooters, failing spectacularly against Vespa and Lambretta. Luckily, the fourth-generation Massimo Laverda was on deck as general manager.  Massimo was a motorcycle enthusiast who saw that there was a paradigm shift underway to view (and make, and market) motorcycles as recreation rather than just basic transportation.

Under Massimo’s direction the company pursued a parallel twin design modeled after the Honda’s highly successful 305 engine—except the Laverda was bigger and, thanks the agricultural company’s latent instinct to over-engineer, decidedly more robust. Laverda debuted a 750 in 1968, giving the company one of the first big-displacement production bikes on the market, and an important head start as the Italian motorcycle industry charged headlong into the 1970’s.

1972 Laverda SFC04-Laverda-SFC-1972

The Laverda SFC was a very special bike and remains so today—it’s clearly the most sought after of all the 18,500 twins the company produced in the 70’s.

1974 Laverda SF05-Laverda-SF2

The Laverda SF’s moniker is Italian for Super Freni, or “Super Brakes.” Laverda originally developed the dual leading shoe drum brakes for the first SF sereies in its own factory—a rarity when most other companies were outsourcing such components. Later it would sport dual discs and be known as an SF2.

1976 Laverda Jota 1000

In 1976 Laverda produced a high-performance version of the triple-cylinder 1000cc platform it had introduced a few years prior. To combat increasingly stiff competition from a gang of new Japanese multi-cylinder superbikes, the spiced-up Jota (named after a fast Spanish gypsy dance in triple time) got wider racing cams, bigger carbs, a close ratio gearbox and a modified race exhaust.

1980 Laverda Montjuic07-Laverda-Montjuic-500-1979

This is the second incarnation of the same basic 500cc-twin platform Laverda introduced 3 years prior. That upright model, the Alpino, suffered from dowdy styling and a high price tag.  Enter the Montjuic, named after a road race circuit in Barcelona where Laverda had racked up a number of victories, the bike was recast as a spunky race replica and it quickly outsold its pokey predecessor 3:1.


Start Here: Intro 70s Italian Superbikes

The Ducati Story
Ducati 350 Mark 3-D (1968-1972)
Ducati 350 Desmo (1971-1972)
Ducati 750S (1972-1974)
Ducati 750SS (1973-1974)
Ducati 900SS (1975-1982)
Ducati Darmah (1977-1982)
Ducati MHR (1979-1984) 

The Laverda Story
Laverda 750S (1969-1970)
Laverda SF (1970-1976)
Laverda SFC (1971-1976)
Laverda Jota (1976-1983)
Laverda Montjuic (1979-1981)

The Moto Guzzi Story
Moto Guzzi V7 Telaio Rosso (1971)
Moto Guzzi V7 Sport (1971-1974)
Moto Guzzi 750S (1974-1975)
Moto Guzzi Lemans 850 (1976-1978)

The MV Agusta Story
MV Agusta 750S (1971-1974)
MV Agusta 750 America (1975-1977)
MV Agusta Magni 861

BonusThe Benelli 750 Sei